South West Challenge
Back in April we did a feature on the South West Challenge, a 9 day archery event which takes part annually in the South West of England. I had taken part in this event last year with Steve and Geoff and was caught up in the fantastic spirit of the event. There are many people who take archery very seriously, shooting most weekends, evenings and practising for many days, however at the South West Challenge you meet people on a slightly different level. People so in love with the sport that they are happy to commit a whole week of their busy year totally to archery and it is a big commitment because this isn't a quick shoot and then off for some fun, this really is a challenge.
Unfortunately Geoff and Steve were unable to attend the challenge this year so I was joined by my wife Wendy and a friend and archery fanatic from work, Phil. The previous year we had based ourselves in a wooden lodge just outside Holdsworthy however the lodge was unavailable so we found ourselves a converted barn just outside Tiverton. The week is nine days, eight of which are split in to four separate two days shoots with one day break on the middle on the Wednesday. The accommodation was relatively central to the shoots so provided a very good base, we travelled down on the Friday so that we were fresh and ready for the shoot early on Saturday morning.
The first shoot was at Tavistock Company of Archers close to Dartmoor, we arrived nice and early. One thing to consider with the South West Challenge is that the archers taking part tend to be those most dedicated and getting out of the car and looking around the car park represents a who's who's of the UK field archery scene. Everywhere you look there are national champions of any number of different bow styles, some a master of many bow styles and while the week is about so much more than winning you cannot get past the fact you are shooting with and against some of the best archers around. We registered and had a quick warm up, but nothing too strenuous as there would be plenty off shooting to be done in the coming days. I was on the peg with Phil, as I would be for the whole week, along with Simon shooting Barebow and Bob shooting crossbow. We had a short walk to our peg and got the usual introductions out of the way, before the horn sounded and we were under way. Normally at this point I would rattle of a blow by blow account of the shoot target by target. My shoot reviews on our club forum are legendary for their depth and detail but given we have 8 shoots to get through we can leave that for now and concentrate on other matters. Lez James the shoot organiser at Tavistock had said that it was national 3d preservation day and he is know for the length of his course, this shoot was no exception as this was a real test of your longer range shooting. Personally I love a challenge and it made for an interesting day and it was only four targets before Phil was given his first taste of what the challenge is all about, a fantastic shot up hill in framed in one of the most wonderful scenery. We all had a good days shooting given the course and I eventually came in with 434, ordinarily that might have been disappointing but this was a tough course and on the grape vine it was no bad score.
The second day was much the same as the first, however Lez this time informed us that the targets had been moved a little closer so as to make the day a little shorter as there would be medals at the end of the day. Phil and I were joined by Wendy and Chris, a bare bow archer who was excellent company as we once again did battle with Lez's course. It was a little easier this time around and I managed to have a more fruitful day coming in with 552. Medals are given for each two day shoot so we gathered to hear how we had got on. I had done well the previous year yet but failed to get in to the medals and this year I was hoping to grab one somewhere in the week, as it happens that target was reached on the first shoot as I managed to get myself Silver, more on that one later. Top man for my class was Lee Philips, the real man of the moment, as news had it that he had been winning everything this year. The south west is a great way to see who is hot for the up coming nationals as it is a little outside our normal shooting area so there are plenty of archers we ordinarily wouldn't shoot with or against. With medals in hand (Wendy also got silver in ladies HT) and stories a plenty we headed back to base for a well earned rest and pint of beer.
The second shoot was at Ashcombe Valley, the previous two days had been standard rounds however it was time for something different and we were shooting a 2 shot round. This involved taking two shots at every target scoring 5, 10 and 15 for wound, kill and inner kill respectively. Phil and I were joined by Steve a longbow archer, this was our first time at Ashcombe and it was a fantastic course with terrain that the marks out the south west from anywhere else we shoot. It was a tough day, very tough in fact and there were complaints that things were to hard as people were struggling to register much of a score, I think complaining is a little harsh as this is a challenge after all and the effort which goes in to laying on a course shouldn't be dismissed. We had a fun day and I eventually came in with 325, seemingly low but it was right up there for men's HT.
At the start of day two of Ashcombe the news that the targets had been moved a little closer was met with a cheer, it seemed some people had really had a tough time registering scores just in to double figures. Phil and I were shooting with Gina and Sam and a mother and son who were again very nice company. Gina was a teacher so Phil and I were on our best behaviour! The course was back to big game scoring and a little easier. We managed to score on most of the targets, even if the terrain was still pretty tough with plenty of up and down hill shots. From 36 paper face targets I managed a decent return of 516 and we once again gathered to see how we had all done. I was starting to exceed my expectations for the week as I managed to get another silver, again hanging on to the coat tails of Lee and more surprisingly in front of the excellent Mike List. Mike, at the time of writing is the current national champion so to be up there with him was both an honour and privilege. He had a few sage words for both Lee and I, something along the lines "I'm going to have to kill you both", which if you have ever had the great fortune to speak with Mike is both hilarious and out of character for one of the true gentlemen of the sport.
After so much archery it was great to have the Wednesday free to give ourselves a little recovery time and we took full use of it to recharge out batteries and also repair a few broken arrows, we were going to need them as is was Lamberts Castle next.
Lamberts Castle was the longest journey of all the shoots so we set off extra early. We found the site in plenty of time so had the usual bacon sandwich and cup of tea before we gathered our kit together and given the safety briefing. Phil and I were joined by another mother and son team this time in the form of Jennie and Alun, we had been warned that the course was stony in places and it proved to be the case, as any misses were usually accompanied by the sound of snapping wood as the tip broke from the front of your arrow. This was more of a problem as we were shooting a woodsman round, which required you to shoot a maximum of three arrows, only stopping when a kill had been scored. Often it was difficult to tell when you had killed the animal so we were shooting plenty of arrows. The course was another fantastic one and we all had a great day, well I say all as Alun found it difficult at times especially at the end when he said "I never knew people shooting wooden arrows could score that many points" when it was revealed I had beaten him by some margin. I did indeed have a good day coming in with 740 which was considerably more than most.
The second day was another standard 36 big game round and Phil and I were joined by father and daughter Chris and Rebecca, we also had the pleasure of Anne who didn't shoot but did a great job of keeping us entertained and scoring a set of cards for us. The course was similar but we all faired a little better, not missing and therefore breaking so many arrows. It was another good day for me with a personal best at the time of 546 from 36 mainly paper targets, so good in fact that this time rather than having to settle for silver it was top spot, gold. Silver went to the pensioner assassin Mike List and bronze to Andy Betts, another great HT archer who maybe didn't have the rub of the green the second day as he had beaten me on the first day and maybe deserved a little more. Wendy got herself another medal, bronze this time.
Given I had started the week looking for a single medal somewhere in the week, to have two silver and now a gold was absolutely brilliant. I was going in to the final weekend not only looking for a medal from each day, but also the possibility of winning the whole week, it was a long shot as Lee had shot exceptionally well the first two shoots and had an equipment malfunction at Lamberts Castle. We had moved base from the barn to a hotel about 4 miles from the next shoot so we travelled there on the Friday night, had a great meal, a few pints and it was off to bed.
The final shoot was at Dunkery, this is the legendary shoot at the south west, with extreme terrain and some of the most stunning views you will ever see on an archery course. The car park is located at the top of a huge hill, as is half the course, there other half is located at the bottom of the huge hill and you spend the first 15 minutes working down to the assembly area. Phil and I were joined by Wendy once again and set off shooting a Dunster, another two shot round. However the effects of the week were now starting to take their toll and with weak arms and legs we all struggled to get the best out of the course. I came in with 720 which while I was far from disappointed with was a little less than the 400 at half way had promised. However talking to people in the car park suggested that I had done better than I had given myself credit for at it later proved to be the second best score of the day in HT and by some margin.
One final day to go and when we signed in we were given our certificate to prove we had completed the full 8 days, shooting for that length really is a challenge, add in the terrain and the tough courses and it makes for something very special. For the first time that week I wasn't shooting with Phil and instead was joined by Ronald, who travels all the way from the Netherlands to compete and also Alberto and Sonia Martinelli. I had shot with Ronald at last years south west challenge so it was nice to catch up with him. Again the week proved to be exhausting and I once again struggled to post a score I felt would have pushed me in to the medals, I came in with 474, my lowest score of the week. I was a little disappointed that I hadn't managed to get myself over the finishing line, but was more than happy with how I had shot over the course of the week and to come away with 3 medals from 4 shoots was more than I could have every wished for coming in to the week. But all was not lost as when it came time for the medals I was both stunned and excited to hear my name called for yet another silver medal. It was genuinely unexpected and it seemed that while 474 was relatively low the 720 from the previous day had given me more than enough of a buffer to get me the medal. As it turned out Lee had come in with an astonishing 880 the previous day and a 504 on what was an exceptionally difficult course. This of course gave Lee the overall title in HT for the week and it couldn't have gone to a more deserving person, it had been a real pleasure to do battle with him during the eight days but there can be no doubt the better archer came out on top, he was simple phenomenal and deserved everything he got, if for no other reason than he is such a lovely fella. Personally I was more than happy with second place for the week as I hadn't expected anything so fantastic. Wendy got another bronze which was enough for her to also get second place over all in Ladies HT.